New Year’s B.O. up 6% from ’92

Based on the performances of the holiday films to date, the majors got the season at least half right, resulting in a $ 74,620,966 New Year’s weekend for the top 10 films, 6% ahead of last year’s $ 70.1 million.

Using the same release strategy it employed for “Beauty and the Beast,” Buena Vista launched “Aladdin” to even stronger results, climaxing in a $ 15,642,073 Jan. 1-3 weekend on 2,255 screens, the best three-day January gross ever. With $ 114.8 million to date, “Aladdin” was the seventh-biggest grossing film of 1992.

Columbia and Castle Rock’s two heads proved to be better than one. Their resource-pooling, star-laden courtroom drama “A Few Good Men” has accumulated $ 77.1 million in 24 days, $ 14,033,527 of that over the past weekend, good for second place. “Men” should benefit from substantial adult theatrical attendance in the winter months.

Fox also wisely stuck to its original winning distribution game-plan on “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” launching pre-Thanksgiving and capitalizing on the strong goodwill of the first flick to hoard dollars quickly before ceding the lead to “Aladdin.”

“Home 2’s” past weekend registered an additional $ 9,562,917 on 2,461 screens , lifting the sequel to $ 145.8 million. Even as steam starts to run out, “Home 2” should surpass “Batman Returns”–it’s now in second place for 1992–making it the most successful sequel since “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

And Warner Bros. must be credited for its slam-bang one-two Kevin Costner/Mel Gibson punch, particularly with the former. “The Bodyguard” was released at Thanksgiving so it could lay claim to the early half of the holiday season, deferring to “Forever Young” in the latter half.

Things didn’t exactly turn out that way. “Bodyguard” refuses to die, with $ 8 ,663,815 in the first weekend of the new year on 1,806 screens and close to $ 88 .2 million to date. “Bodyguard” and “Men” will cross $ 100 million, making 1992- 93 the first holiday season to have four super-high grossers.

“Forever Young” is no “Bodyguard,” though with $ 33.4 million to date and $ 7 ,666,446 on 1,710 screens in its third weekend, it should rank behind “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” as the sixth-best performer for the season–all of them certifiable hits.

Question is whether “Forever” might have done better in summer or even in spring, when there are fewer high-profile star vehicles, especially since “Bodyguard” never flagged and may have encroached on “Forever’s” audience.

Columbia certainly got “Dracula” right, getting in a week ahead of the first holiday releases and taking home $ 30 million in three days, about 37% of its total to date of $ 82 million. Even in peak summer, pic couldn’t have done much better.

Fox’s “Hoffa,” however, didn’t have the stuff that holiday crowds wanted, dropping 24% in its second weekend on 1,081 screens to $ 4,875,657 and a minimum-wage $ 15.5 million to date. The $ 30 million-plus film made the most of its marketing, but needed all the critical kind words it could get–and got almost none. Its fate might not have been substantially improved whenever it was released.

BV’s “The Distinguished Gentleman” dumbfounded most prognosticators. The heretofore foolproof Eddie Murphy lost his African-American audience base with this con-man comedy. And even with an expensive ad-pub push, it never ignited. Past weekend was $ 4,435,783 on 1,830 screens, for a total to date of $ 38.3 million.

Considering the similarities to “Boomerang” (which grossed $ 70 million), it might have played better away from the Christmas crowd. But theater owners want big stars at important playing times.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Paramount’s “Leap of Faith” almost certainly would have done better at another time of year. It opened in the doghouse. And it’s stayed a fairly steady, if low-grossing, course. Third weekend sang $ 3,725,955 on 1,600 screens. Having started so low–the unfocused marketing effort didn’t help –the Steve Martin drama won’t ever do substantially better than its $ 16.2 million total to date.

Fox had no option but to release “Toys” at Christmas, a move dictated by concept. But the pic had no playability and has been steadily declining since its mediocre opening. Third weekend was down 24% to $ 2,992,187 on 1,289 screens for a dismal $ 18.15 million to date.

Likewise, but with better results, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” has taken $ 24.6 million in four weeks. Even with “Aladdin” and “Home Alone 2,” this one carved a little corner for itself, selling $ 3,022,606 in tickets over the past weekend. That’s a good base from which to promote the video release next year at this time. It should sell a ton.

Universal, however, walked right into an ambush with the star-crossed “Trespass,” which collapsed by 45% from its opening to $ 2,757,495 on 1,027 screens and a fire-sale $ 9.7 million in 10 days.

Because of the spring riots, the release of the formerly titled “Looters” was pushed back from a logical summer slot, when it was being heralded as a potential sleeper. The strategy to counter-program with an actioner at Christmas has worked in the past. “Trespass” just turned out to be the wrong movie.

U might have been better off going nationally with “Scent of a Woman,” which at one time it had slotted for platforming in November, similar to last year’s “Cape Fear.” The Al Pacino starrer is doing nicely on 20 screens, up 38% to $ 493,815 in its second weekend. The studio could recoup if the playability factor is as handsome nationwide, where the film goes Friday.

Same is true of Fox’s “Used People,” the latest entry in the “Driving Miss Fried Green Moonstruck” sweepstakes. The $ 697,791 collected on 48 screens –about $ 14,500 per–indicates this low-budgeter could have gotten a toehold in the crowded Christmas arena. Outcome of January national release will provide a clearer picture.

Warners seems to have gotten the most they could out of extra-long-playing “Malcolm X,” receiving a bit of a boost from adults over the holidays–film curiously never really caught on with younger viewers of any race. Past weekend was $ 1,992,516 on 1,110 screens.

Total gross is now close to $ 45 million, and absent Oscar ballyhoo the film won’t edge much past $ 50 million. It’s not a major hit, but considering WB’s reduced investment of about $ 25 million (Largo picked up foreign), and formidable video and TV future for “Malcolm X,” the investment wasn’t squandered.

TriStar’s “Chaplin” might also have gone wide faster, especially in light of downbeat notices. Second weekend was up 30% to $ 110,185 on five screens.

By contrast, New Line’s controversial “Damage,” on four screens, grossed $ 127,973 for the weekend and $ 361,823 in past two weeks.

There’s no right time to release “Lorenzo’s Oil,” which U wisely kept under wraps until the very end of the year. The rigorous film demands slow roll-out and as much critical commentary and star-driven publicity as possible. First weekend was a good $ 79,353 on three screens and $ 118,138 in five days. Word of mouth from initial runs and specialized screenings will be key to this one’s long-term prospects. Award talk won’t hurt, either.

Indie Miramax’s timing on “The Crying Game” was exquisite, the perfect urban alternative to commercial studio fare. The film continues to rack up critical kudos and great word-of-mouth. Past weekend on 118 screens was a wailing $ 1,242 ,686 for $ 4.4 million to date.

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